How to save money and get cheap theatre tickets in London’s West End and beyond.
A trip to the theatre isn’t a cheap night out. Tickets for Hamilton go as high as £250. That’s for one ticket. Crazy prices. But there are ways to see West End and local theatre productions for less.
I obviously don’t pay that kind of price. Yes for the hottest shows that means I might go without, but there are plenty of ways to see top-quality West End and local theatre productions for less.
Hunt out the best deals
Ad hoc sales and offers pop up on TodayTix, while TimeOut has the occasional deal (it used to be better). There are sometimes flash sales at Ticketmaster too. Lastminute.com isn’t as good as it once was, but it’s worth a look.
Generally, avoid sites like TasteCard+, which offer money off tickets as part of the membership. Each time I’ve looked the deals can be beaten elsewhere or aren’t even discounted at all.
When there are any really good deals on lots of productions, I’ll list them on my theatre tickets deals page.
Pay with discounted gift cards
This trick won’t always work – sometimes the best prices are on sites that don’t accept gift cards (e.g TodayTix). But there are often deals to save here or there on the likes of Ticketmaster and Theatre Tokens.
Thanks to this I managed to get 50% off seats at rarely discounted shows Cabaret and Hamilton (though sadly it’s rare to see such a huge per cent off).
Choose the best value seats
If there’s a play I want to see my first stop is often always the excellent Theatre Monkey. The website provides seating plans for each theatre, with crowdsourced feedback from readers telling you which seats are good value, and which are bad. Often a ticket might be cheap because you can’t see half the stage!
Listen to Cash Chats, our award-winning podcast, presented by Editor-in-chief Andy Webb.
Episodes every Tuesday.
Get a cheaper day or rush ticket
A number of shows offer reduced tickets on the day, often called rush or day tickets. Sometimes these have been held back for the day, or they could just be returns. For the really popular shows this is a great way to get tickets.
It used to be you’d have to rock up at the box office very, very early. But now most of these are sold online. Theatremonkey has a list of how it works for each show, along with reader feedback on success rates for those queuing in-person.
However, the majority will be sold through the TodayTix where you unlock “rush tickets” at 10am. Most cost £25, but could be as low as £15.
The seats could be anywhere in the theatre, from restricted view through to the the top-end VIP seats. It’s first come first serve, though I’ve managed to get tickets as late as 5pm (obviously not for the most popular shows).
Some theatres have larger numbers of reduced tickets on set days. Over at The Royal Court there are £12 seats every Monday (on sale 9am online on the day).
Try a lottery
Lotteries for plays can get you cheap tickets to performances, even the most popular and sold-out shows. However, as the name suggests, it’s a lottery as to whether your name is chosen to buy the tickets.
Over the years I tried for shows like Book of Mormon, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hamilton and Cabaret – with no success!
They used to take place at the box office. You’d just turn up at the box office a few hours before the show and give your name… and hope! Now most are online.
Check in advance what the rules are. Some take place once a week for all performances the following week, others are daily. There’s usually a cut-off time to submit your entry and if you’re successful you’ll likely only be able to buy two tickets.
Be a seat filler
I’ve nabbed dozens of free tickets for my parents through sites like Show Film First and Central Tickets often for big West End shows. The reason? Theatres want to fill up the seats.
This tends to happen at the start to help spread word of mouth, or near the end of a run when less people are going. There’s usually a £4 to £10 fee per ticket – a fraction of the actual ticket cost. Here’s my full guide to how it works.
Buy resale seats
The Twickets website is a great place for people to sell on seats they can no longer use. Though sellers can’t inflate the selling price (it’s an anti-tout company), there are Twicket fees on top, so it’s always worth checking you can’t get the ticket for less direct.
However, the closer it gets to the performance date, sellers can reduce their asking price or allow offers. So if you can go last minute you might be able to nab a bargain. At the time of writing I spotted Hamilton tickets for tonight’s performance going for below face value.
Go to theatres with special rates
The National Theatre offers hundreds of tickets at each performance at just £20. They go quick but you can sign up for alerts.
You can of course avoid the West End and see something on the fringe, which will be much cheaper. The Arcola has a “Pay What You Can Tuesdays”, with a suggested price of £5.
Visit the official theatre booth
From when I was a kid through to just a few years ago I always used to head to the official TKTs Theatre Booth in Leicester Sq to get my tickets (as long as I was flexible about what I saw). Unsold tickets for that day’s performances were often half-price – though there was usually a queue.
Recently the prices don’t seem as competitive as they once were, but they’re still worth a look if there are a few London shows you’d like to see. Don’t confuse it with other “discount theater booths” nearby.
And you don’t have to visit in person now. I picked up tickets online to Dear England on the train down to London for that evening’s performance.
Go to a less expensive performance
If you can go on a midweek afternoon – usually a Wednesday or Thursday – you’re more likely to find availability in the cheaper seats. The same goes for evening shows at the start of the week.
Previews are often discounted as they’re essentially ticketed dress rehearsals. Most shows will be cheaper. However with full prices already so high, you could still pay a fair amount.
Cut your booking and delivery fees
A good way to save is to collect your tickets at the box office on the night of the show. If there are no special deals or discounts, head to the theatre box office where you can normally avoid booking fees too.
Buy a cheap seat and ask for an upgrade
Buy a ticket in the cheapest part of the theatre – usually at the top of the upper circle or similar then you could be automatically upgraded. For less-busy shows these parts of the theatre are often closed and the tickets redistributed.
I’ve had this happen a few times. A few years ago I bought £10 tickets (to Let The Right One In) via Lastminute.com. They were meant to be restricted view in the top circle level, but when we arrived we found we’d been upgraded to £50 stalls tickets to fill those seats (the circle was completely closed).
This is more likely to happen on less popular productions in larger theatres for performances happening earlier in the week,
If that hasn’t happened automatically and the theatre isn’t too busy, you can always ask when you collect your tix. Or just see if you can move in the interval – though you might be asked to move back by staff.
Ditch the West End
Yes theatre does exist outside central London! There are lots of top theatres, especially in Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Stratford-upon-Avon and Chichester.
Plus, many shows will tour the UK before moving to the West End, or will be revived a few years later. Seats will pretty much always be cheaper this way.
Watch it at the cinema or at home
If you’re not in London or can’t afford West End prices even when they are on offer, then your best chance to see the top plays is in the cinema. Tickets generally range between £15 and £20.
And there are streaming services that allow you to watch productions from your sofa.